"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Tesla's death mask

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

Spend enough time in a museum and the space starts to take on a personality. From knowing the exhibits—and thinking about what is included and what isn't—you start to feel like you have some insight into "who" the museum is supposed to be, and, perhaps, a peek into the minds that shaped the place.

And sometimes, what you learn is kind of funny.

Andy Tanguay lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Here's his take on what you'll learn about Henry Ford if you visit the museum often enough.

When you go through The Henry Ford as many times as I have, you start to assemble a portrait of a borderline-creepy affection for Thomas Edison by Henry Ford. There's industrialist BFFs ... and then there's Ford and Edison. I've never seen any notebooks with Edison's name and little hearts around it, but whole thing feels rather odd.

So I think it's very telling that there's just one tiny case related to Tesla — arguably Edison's 'Apollo Creed' to Tesla's 'Rocky' — and it mainly houses his death mask almost like a trophy.


  1. Agreed on The Henry Ford (as it’s now called).  The place is enormous.  And filled with an astonishing variety of exhibits.  Locomotives, coffee pots, residential interiors, clocks, furniture, fabrics, industrial machines.  An entire power plant from an auto factory was reconstructed inside.  And steam engines dating back hundreds of years.  
    And of course cars, cars, cars and more cars.

  2. In Tim Powers’ novel Expiration Date, he notes that Ford had saved Edison’s last breath in a glass vial and that it’s in the museum now.  That becomes a major plot point throughout the book, allowing Edison to come back from beyond.  Obviously, the place tickles Powers’ love for the bizarre as well.

    1. Yeah, I went with my kids (daughter – 7, son – 9) and my son looked at this and asked how they could have possibly gotten his last breath.  After thinking about it for a few seconds, I replied that Ford had said to Edison “hey, breathe into this vial” and then strangled him and that’s how he died.   My daughter went wide-eyed until my son said “Daaad! C’mon” and then they both started cracking up.  Oh, and I’m just remembering that this was the trip where when we got out of the car in the almost empty parking lot (i.e. no traffic)  and I told my son to hold my daughter’s hand and to start for the door.  Knowing that holding hands was for safety he said incredulously “Her?!  What good is SHE gonna do me?!”

  3. Henry Ford moved Edison’s entire Menlo Park NJ lab to the Greenfield Village outdoor museum that’s part of The Henry Ford.  Among other historic buildings that Ford collected is the Wright Bros’ bicycle shop.

  4. So I think it’s very telling that there’s just one tiny case related to Tesla — arguably Edison’s ‘Apollo Creed’ to Tesla’s ‘Rocky’ — and it mainly houses his death mask almost like a trophy.

    I wouldn’t read much into it.  They’ve also got the chair that Lincoln was shot in.

    The Henry Ford Museum really IS America’s attic.  There’s old furniture, a train, old cars, old clocks, jewelry, a dynamtion house, a light bulb manufacturing line, old steam generators, and aircraft.  None of these things predates the founding of this country, and most of which is fairly modern.  (Last 100-150 years)

  5. They do make a big deal out of Edison.  And Edison is an important figure in the time frame that the Henry Ford is primarily dealing with.  We’re members at the museum and go there a few times a year.  I generally keep my mouth shut but I have gotten into a few conversations with other patrons along the lines of “Edison was a smart guy, but also was actually quite the asshole, and his success was largely based on the work of his employees, and of brutal enforcement of his monopolies.”  He actually hired his own thugs to go out and destroy equipment built by competitors for stuff he had patents on.

  6. Oh, Ford was totally into Edison… TOTALLY. After a visit to the museum you feel like you need a shower after viewing several photos with Ford gazing longly at Edison. Despite that, The Henry Ford is an awesome place to go hang out and get your history on.

  7. We wouldn’t have what we have now, if it wasn’t for Nikola Tesla and his inventions. Stuff Eddison and his jealous rages and Marconi for pinching Nikola’s work which got proven in courts that Nikola Tesla was the original inventor of the radio and telephone.

    From a fellow Serb

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